NEW DELHI: Amid growing threat from China, India has accelerated its ongoing efforts to extensively expand the security network in the Indo-Pacific, Indian Ocean Region and at the Line of Actual Control. New Delhi’s efforts include expansion of security and military partnerships with various countries such as France, Germany, Japan, Australia, the US, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. While several joint and multinational military and naval exercises have taken place, many more are on the anvil, diplomatic sources said.

NAVAL POWER IN INDO-PACIFIC
In what will give New Delhi massive power in the Indo-Pacific amid Beijing’s assertive activities, India’s first aircraft carrier and battleship INS Vikramaditya is expected to start sailing in the sea around 30 January. Its sea trials will commence very soon, sources said, adding the flight trials on INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant will commence very soon. The two operational aircraft carriers will give India’s naval force massive power in the Indo-Pacific where China keeps flexing its muscles, sources said.

AIRCRAFT TO NAVY FROM FRANCE?
Significantly, the Indian Navy is also in line to get Rafale fighter aircraft from France. Sources said that the deal may be signed between the two countries when French President Emmanuel Macron visits New Delhi in March. India is eagerly waiting for the visits of Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Macron will visit Delhi in March, while Scholz is scheduled to tour India in February. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have comprehensive discussions with these leaders on strategic and other matters. Sources said that the focus will be on Indo-Pacific in the background of China’s aggressive agenda in the region. “Joint military and naval drills in the Indo-Pacific and along the border with China would also be planned and finalized as the leaders of the European Union’s two biggest economies Germany and France meet the PM here,” sources said. Their bilateral visits will be in addition to their visits in September 2023 for the G20 summit in New Delhi. New Delhi will firm up a strategy to enhance engagement with Paris and Berlin in the Indo-Pacific, sources told TSG. Importantly, both France and Germany have declared India as their key partner in the Indo-Pacific.

JAISHANKAR’S OUTREACH TO SRI LANKA, MALDIVES
India and other countries have taken a serious note of China’s President Xi Jinping telling the PLA to focus all its energy on fighting in preparation for war. He recently addressed the soldiers of the PLA, who are stationed along the LAC, in what signals Beijing’s plan to pursue a more aggressive agenda there. S. Jaishankar during his visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives this week spoke at length about the regional security in view of China’s bids to grow influence in the region, sources said. He told the leadership in Male and Colombo not to allow their territory to be used by any force (read China) which could destroy peace in the region, source said. Jaishankar told Male that India and Maldives have a responsibility for peace and security in the region. “China issue also figured prominently during Jaishankar’s meetings with Sri Lankan leaders,” a source said.

INDIA’S BHUTAN OUTREACH
Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra visited Bhutan. This visit assumes significance as it took place after Sino-Bhutanese boundary talks. Beijing and Bhutan decided to push forward boundary negotiations, following which India rushed FS Kwatra to increase engagement with Bhutan. Bhutan-China boundary talks are important as they involve talks over Doklam where Indian and Chinese armies engaged in a face-off for two months in 2017.

JOINT DRILLS
The next few months will witness several military and naval drills, and hectic diplomatic engagements. India is working on several joint military drills with the US, Japan, France, Germany and Australia this year. Already, Indian and American armies were engaged in the Yudh Abhyas exercise, close to the LAC in Uttarakhand. Similarly, India-Japan air drills are being carried out in what has given anxious moments to China. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s statement reflected Beijing’s concerns over this development. Wang said that the countries should be careful to act in the interest of peace and stability in the region. In fact, Japan and India held their first joint air drills in an area outside of Tokyo. The message was loud and clear that the two countries conducted the drills amid attempts to counter China’s expanding influence in the wider Asia-Pacific region. The joint air exercises will end on 26 January. As part of New Delhi’s plan to boost security cooperation with other countries, Indian Navy and French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and its strike group carried out their large-scale operational cooperation “Varuna” from Goa. The French Carrier Strike Group, comprising the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, is deployed in the Indian Ocean under the ANTARES mission. It was the five-day exercise that began on January 16. It exemplifies the outstanding Indo-French naval cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

GLOBAL PRESSURE ON CHINA
India is also interested to see that other countries also keep organizing joint military and air drills in the Indo-Pacific so as to keep China under pressure. In recent months, the US has conducted joint drills with almost all of the major powers in the region, including with Japan in November. Last month, Washington held air drills with South Korea. From September to December, Britain held a series of exercises that saw the UK Armed Forces train alongside Australia, Japan, South Korea and other regional nations. Australia hosted the Pitch Black joint military exercise in August with 17 countries. The German Air Force took part for the first time. In August, the US conducted combat exercises with Indonesia in Garuda Shield with over a dozen countries including Australia and Japan.